STRATFORD, Conn. — With 36 years of experience in the field, employment attorney Margaret Sheahan has some sage advice for General Electric employees who might find themselves left behind as the company headquarters relocates from Fairfield to Boston.
“First, step back and take a deep breath,” she said Thursday, a day after the company announced the move of the headquarters and 200 of the 800 employees. “They should say, ‘Let me assume the worst. I’m about to lose my job. What do I need to know?'”
Sheahan, a partner in the town-based law firm of Mitchell & Sheahan, said employees should become familiar with GE’s policies and procedures for possible job termination. While it is unclear if any employees will lose their jobs, a lot of what happens next for the estimated 600 people in limbo depends on what the company has in place and what they agreed to when they came on board.
Employees should find out whether they’re eligible for any expected bonuses or commissions if they are not among the 200 expected to be offered relocation, Sheahan said.
The same goes for stock grants and options. It’s common for companies to have vesting schedules for each and employees should find out how vested they are and whether they will still qualify upon terminated, Sheahan said.
Employees should look into whether they’ll be affected by a noncompetitive agreement that might restrict their ability to work for a competitor, GE’s customers and vendors or current GE employees.
There may be a policy in place that would mean certain terminated employees could not seek work at United Technologies, for example.
Affected employees should request a copy of their personnel files and any forms and agreements they signed upon employment, Sheahan said.
Employees should also request information on the selection process for relocation, as it could show signs of discrimination by sex, age, race, sexuality or other factors.
“They should ask, ‘How did they choose that person?’” she said.
Those offered jobs at the new headquarters need to be careful, too. Severance might not be an option for those who elect not to move.
“Declining an offer to relocate can, in some cases, cut off your rights to other benefits,” Sheahan said.
Not every affected employee will need an employment attorney, but legal advice might be helpful to some.
“It could be worthwhile if people think something may be amiss,” she said.
While possible relocation has been discussed for years, Sheahan said she sympathizes with GE employees and management.
“There’s a difference between seeing this as something that might happen and having it happen,” she said.
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